In one of the most exciting moments in their career so far, BTS has released yet another remarkable mini-album. As we all already know, these guys have been breaking records left and right since last year, but “Love Yourself: HER” has had extraordinary domestic and international success. The album lives up to the hype, channeling BTS’s creative energies in new directions and showing off their biggest strengths. Two songs stood out to me; you can probably guess which ones: “DNA,” a dance track with more depth and originality than most recent K-pop of the same style; and “Mic Drop,” which—well. I’ll get to “Mic Drop” in a bit. First things first: This title track had everything I wanted from Bangtan this fall. While it by no means tops “Spring Day” or “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” “DNA” checks all the boxes. It’s catchy, danceable, sonically interesting, and sufficiently melodic for my melody-craving tastes. To me, “DNA” is a perfect post-Billboard Award song to show the world who BTS are.
My personal favorite thing by far about “DNA” is the surprise factor of the chorus, which Bangtan has been bringing to their comeback titles in various ways for ages. Back in Young Forever era, “Fire” focused almost exclusively on the sound of the beat—on making it bigger, harder, crazier—an exciting move given that their past releases, and K-pop as a tradition, used the beat to propel the rap and vocals, not the other way around. Then came “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” whose sound itself was new for Bangtan but whose concept was the real shocker. The sheer weirdness scale of the music video was astounding enough, but the placement of the song within the video added to the suspense: for example, the wait throughout the long introduction for the song to start, or the sudden return of the chorus after the dramatic reveal that V is the fallen angel in the MV’s story. And of course, “Spring Day,” last but never least, astonished us all by delivering an incredibly melodic and ultimately anthemic rock sound, the likes of which K-pop had never, just never ever, seen before. I guess when I think about it, I should have expected “DNA” to surprise me, but I think it’s better that I stayed out of that oxymoron and let myself be wowed.
For me it’s a shame that many other K-pop groups (SM Ent and JYP Ent are particularly guilty of this, I think) give away the best part of the song in the teaser, so there’s not a lot to anticipate when you hear the track itself. BTS and BigHit Entertainment fall on the other extreme, dropping teasers that hide not only the highlights but practically the entire style of the song. I’ll admit, I was a little thrown when I first heard the snippet of acoustic guitar in the 2nd teaser for “DNA,” because in its stripped state, it gave me brief flashbacks to the vanilla pop on American radio. But, as always, BTS proved that they will never give up their songs’ individuality for mass appeal. It’s a fine line to walk, and BTS manages to straddle it by maintaining their creativity while maximizing the audience that “DNA” can reach with a crystalline future bass chorus. I still remember the first time I heard the drop—it took my breath away. I expected a fast-paced dance beat similar to what I had heard in the verses, but “DNA” overturned my expectations with heavy, drawn-out bass and syncopated electronic sounds. The verses’ high-energy dance vibes fit with the chorus, but could never predict it. I especially loved the construction of the final chorus, which incorporates repeated and new vocal melodies to keep things interesting until the very end—a feat that can be difficult to accomplish in dance pop.
The only thing I didn’t see BTS doing in “DNA” was pushing the boundaries of K-pop as a genre. With past title tracks, most notably “Spring Day,” BTS has forged off into their own territory in terms of sound and style. However, “DNA” situated itself comfortably in the mainstream instead. While this surprised me, I’m by no means displeased—I mean, look at the result. I’d bet that the choice to dive into the now tried-and-true K-pop trend of future bass was a strategic move by BigHit to capitalize on BTS’s steep rise in popularity and catch the attention of as many people as possible, not only in South Korea but throughout the world.
While BTS didn’t do much journeying into places unknown with “DNA,” they pushed themselves into new terrain elsewhere on the album. Take, for instance, “Mic Drop.” MIC. DROP. What a track. “Mic Drop”s production is unique in BTS’s discography and quite uncommon in K-pop as well, because of its focus on mood rather than auditory precision. A friend of mine told me she was disappointed with “Mic Drop” because it sounds “messy” to her. For me, that burned-out sound is the whole point of “Mic Drop.” It’s supposed to sound frenetic, too dense to wade through, as if playing way too loudly on speakers that are about to blow. On the album, “Mic Drop” plays right after the skit where we hear leader RM delivering BTS’s thank-you speech after receiving the Billboard Top Social Artist Award back in May. The track—well, yeah, the skit—ends with the sound of a microphone distorting and fading out. “Mic Drop,” starting with similar distortion, directly follows—in effect, BTS’s mic drop after the Billboards speech. The song isn’t about a mic drop; it IS a mic drop. It doesn’t need to dazzle with meticulously produced beats like “Fire” or crystal-clear synths like “Not Today.” The energy inherent in the concept alone takes it above and beyond. The addition of BTS’s usual hip-hop elements of spectacular rap as well as youthful vocal tones make it recognizably Bangtan; however, it’s the symbol of the mic drop—present not only in the order of the tracklist, but throughout “Mic Drop”s lyrics and production—that makes the song one of a kind.
As for the rest of the mini-album, it’s a pile of gold nuggets, as anticipated from BTS. “Serendipity” is a gift from angels, “Illegal (Dimple)” is an absolute pop confection, and “Pied Piper” has possibly the most unprecedented lyrics of the year so far in K-pop. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of the Chainsmokers-produced beat in “Best of Me,” but the passion of the rap and the sweetness of the melody make up for it. Yes, it’s significantly more pure pop-leaning than BTS’s past releases. But BTS’s identity is still present and evolving through their lyrics, which continue to stand out as exceptionally honest and genuine. As they always have, BTS sings about what they know, discussing the positives and negatives of fame (“Mic Drop”), expressing love for their fans (“Best of Me”), critiquing social attitudes (“Go Go”) and more. (Don’t think I’ve forgotten “Sea.” Just the opposite: I had so much to say on that topic that I had to write a whole different article under K-pop Thoughts, here). BTS’s sincerity always has been one of their biggest selling points, and I’m sure BigHit knows exactly how important it is to BTS’s success.
All in all, this was to me the perfect album to make in impression in the West without sacrificing the integrity of BTS’s K-pop brand. “Love Yourself: HER” maximizes BTS’s audience while proudly showing off their personality. As always, I look forward to seeing what Bangtan will do next. Though pioneers like PSY, BIGBANG, and Wonder Girls have made the name of K-pop recognizable overseas, BTS will be the group that makes the West unable to ignore it.
DNA: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Oh, such a bop.
Take a look at BTS’s “DNA MV” below: